If kissing Dana White’s backside is a requirement, Ben Askren would rather not sit at the cool kids’ table.
As a former Olympian, two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion, undefeated MMA fighter and a multiple world champion, Askren is everything you’d expect from a consummate professional and an overachiever.
One look at his résumé alone should be more than enough to send the UFC hurrying to his doorstep. But oddly enough the invitation to compete among the best in the world in the MMA mecca continues to elude Askren.
It hardly needs to be said that Askren isn’t on the best of terms with the UFC President. The pair has bickered back and forth in the media, taking an occasional below-the-belt shot. In a two-year-old Twitter post, White called the former Olympian “the most boring fighter in MMA history.”
In a clear reference to White when speaking with Steven Marracco of MMAJunkie.com, Askren claimed that he may never get an opportunity to prove he’s the best in the world simply because “one bald-headed fat man” chooses not to let him into the UFC.
But this story took an interesting turn over the weekend.
Askren fought and defeated Nobutatsu Suzuki in just 1:24 to become the new OneFC welterweight champ last Friday. After hearing about Askren’s performance, White seemed to change his tone about the possibility of signing the University of Missouri grad to a UFC contract in the future.
“Yeah, if he keeps winning, he can get a shot over here,” White said, during the UFC 177 post-fight media scrum. “Ben Askren said a lot of stupid s—t when he left [Bellator], but I don’t care about stuff like that.”
When asked about White’s comments, Askren seemed unimpressed by the weak prospect of finally getting an opportunity he feels he has long deserved:
I have a hard time with how Dana White treats people, Askren told MMA journalist Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. It’s kind of like all of us had that time in high school when we were bullied by the cool group of kids. Then we did something, then the cool group said, ‘Oh my god, can you be part of our group?’ Then some of us who didn’t have low self-esteem said, ‘Well, you didn’t want me the first time, I’m alright.’ Then some other people, they run, ‘The cool kids want to hang out with me? Yes, please.' I think it’s kind of one of those things.
One incident in particular that bothered Askren was White’s treatment of former UFC bantamweight champ Renan Barao over the weekend at UFC 177.
Barao, who normally cuts a significant amount of weight to make the 135-pound limit, blacked out on the day of the weigh-ins and hit his head while attempting to shed a few more pounds in a warm bathtub.
UFC 177 was a pay-per-view card already lacking in star power, and the loss of Barao nearly drove the final nail in the coffin. Forced to find a last-minute replacement, the UFC called upon former featherweight champ Joe Soto to save the day.
At the post-fight media scrum on Saturday, White announced that the UFC would not be paying Barao the initially agreed upon show money for the event. According to White, the former champ “hurt” the UFC and “messed with the show,” and he was “going home without a dime.”
While Askren agrees with the fact that Barao made a huge mistake, he also believes White was too quick to throw him under the bus:
Even last weekend, Barao, did he make a mistake? Yeah, he blew it. He freakin’ blew it, big time. He probably shouldn’t be at 135 pounds. But the way Dana just threw him under the bus like he was a piece of garbage. Where's some human decency there?...I think we’ve seen it time after time with Dana. And so I think at the end of the day he cares about his bottom line a lot, and he doesn’t care enough about the athletes.
Askren later said, “The UFC has greatly expanded their schedule and they have to provide their talent for all these cards they have going on. You know and I know, even UFC 177, which was a numbered UFC, provided some pretty damn bad talent.”
Unlike most fighters, Askren always looked to the bright lights of the UFC as more of an opportunity than a reward.
Kids grow up hoping to one day step inside the sacred Octagon and fight under the three-lettered banner. But for Askren, it’s all about fighting the best available guy. He would love to compete against the UFC’s welterweight elite, but at the same time, he’s not going to dwell on not receiving his golden ticket to the big show.
A good résumé speaks for itself, and Askren is confident that his accomplishments tower over half of the UFC’s entire roster:
[Dana] saying I’m not good enough for the UFC? I’ve got more skills in my pinky finger than half the damn guys in the UFC. Have you seen some of these guys fighting lately? It’s ridiculous. Having the letters UFC behind my name is not the be-all, end-all it is for someone. Some people think once they get into the UFC, that’s it. I think with having more large organizations in the world, it’s going to be great for the fighters, because right now the fighters are being underpaid greatly, in my opinion, and I was one who was able to step outside that box and go find a great paycheck somewhere else.
At the end of the day, Askren is still willing to do business with the UFC if an opportunity presents itself.
White has shown a propensity to put his personal feelings aside and work with fighters he has feuded with in the past. UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz is generally the first person who comes to mind. He still managed to keep his job after parading around the UFC 84 weigh-ins with a “Dana is my b---h” t-shirt.
In any case, Askren is willing to let bygones be bygones if White wants to talk things out in a face-to-face meeting.
“I’m not going to grovel. I’m not going to be a kiss-up,” Askren said. “... If he wanted to meet face to face and talk, we could settle the beef, I’d be open to that.”
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.